Human rights are often taken for granted by those who have them. For marginalized and vulnerable groups and individuals, they can be chimeras. These are the people at the core the Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP), which has won the 2015 Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize.
“The IHRP has expanded far beyond its original mandate and excelled beyond the Faculty’s initial expectations,” says U of T Law Dean Edward Iacobucci. “Indeed, the IHRP has pioneered an innovative model that allows it to punch above its weight.”
The program began in 1987 with a focus on supporting human rights-related summer internships. In 2002, under the leadership of then-Dean Ronald Daniels, the IHRP expanded to include Canada’s first international human-rights clinic. By 2008, it had launched a student-edited magazine, Rights Review.
The IHRP’s legal clinic won a 2010 Lexpert Zenith Award for pro bono service, which was an encouragement to further growth. In the last five years, with the support of then-Dean Mayo Moran, the IHRP has made many strides, most notably in the public sphere. By partnering with NGOs that require advice and action, the program has created experiential learning opportunities while making a real difference to the promotion of human rights in Canada and abroad.
These collaborations have led to timely reports such as A Girl’s Right to Learn without Fear, prepared with Plan Canada and launched with all-party support on Parliament Hill. Another report, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading, which was endorsed by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the Disabled Women’s Network of Canada, exposed the long-term solitary confinement of prisoners with mental health issues. Coinciding with the shocking in-custody death of Ashley Smith, the report made front-page news in the Toronto Star and was brought to the attention of the United Nations.
IHRP advocacy has also extended beyond Canada’s borders to Kenya, where in collaboration with the NGO Equality Effect, it was instrumental to challenging impunity for widespread child rape. Beyond producing legal memos relating to the Child Rights Convention, IHRP was able to send student interns to Kenya to help collect evidence and train police. In 2013, the program received funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council to support an international conference on policy responses to sexual violence in Libya and Syria.
Another issue to which the IHRP has made a substantial contribution is the suppression of freedom of the press, notably in Mexico and Honduras. The IHRP has published two reports with PEN Canada and PEN International, with another one in the works.
Student volunteers have done extensive work in the area of discrimination against sexual minorities with reports on 40 countries available on the IHRP website.
The IHRP has intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in such important cases as Charkaoui v. Canada (challenging preventative detention of alleged security threats) and Khadr v. Canada, often with the active support of Professor Audrey Macklin, Chair of the IHRP Faculty Advisory Committee.
All this activity requires direction. As well as administering a growing program, IHRP executive director Renu Mandhane has written many op-ed pieces for leading newspapers and provided countless interviews to local, national and international media.
Not surprisingly, this outreach has encouraged support. Recently the program received a $75,000 grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation to spearhead an investigation into Canada’s treatment of asylum-seekers with HIV. This year the Faculty of Law will launch a campaign seeking $5 million in endowed support for IHRP.
The expansion of the IHRP as a national and international force has necessarily resulted in increased benefits for students. About 50 are involved in IHRP as researchers, interns, and volunteers every year.
“The IHRP clinic teaches its students precise legal analytical skills and collaborative research and writing skills while instilling a weighty sense of responsibility over their work by allowing them to engage at a high-level in such cases,” says Sofia Mariam Ijaz, JD 2014, a former clinic student. “In addition to the training I received as a clinic student, the IHRP helped me develop as a human rights advocate by enabling me, through the financial and academic support of its internship program, to work on human rights issues I was passionate about.”
The Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize is presented along with several other faculty, staff and student awards under the banner of Awards of Excellence. A list of this year’s recipients and their citations can be viewed on the Awards of Excellence website. This award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.
Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.
IHRP executive director, Renu Mandhane, and Faculty Advisory Committee Chair, Audrey Macklin, and the other 2015 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 13.